Richard Talbot held an AHRC Research Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts in the Department of Fine Art at Newcastle University from 2004 to 2009. This website documents the background to the project, some of the main research questions and the main outputs from the Fellowship.
Through drawings, conference papers and journal contributions, Talbot asks whether there has been a fundamental misunderstanding by historians, cultural commentators and artists, about the nature, purpose and consequently the origins of perspective. Research outputs document and describe Talbot’s drawing practice, his reflection on it and his research in to the processes of perspective construction involved both in his own drawings and in other artists' work.
The questions that this project addresses have arisen from various aspects of Talbot’s experience of making large drawings that develop and depict complex three-dimensional spatial structures. The making of the drawings has led to a particular awareness of questions surrounding the relationships between the artist’s intentions, the methods and approaches to the perspective construction, the resulting spatial characteristics and the imagery.
The questions arose on the one hand, out of a growing concern with the relationship between the imagery and the processes and drawing methods that Talbot uses, and on the other, out of the increasing realisation that his knowledge and understanding of linear perspective, gained as a practitioner, did not completely map on to, and in many respects contradicted or undermined some of the orthodox thinking, histories and other portrayals of perspective. One of the aims of the project was therefore to explore historical and theoretical concerns about linear perspective and its uses, including assumptions about the nature, origins, methods and purpose of perspective.
This has led to an interrogation of the orthodox history of linear perspective and the apparently commonsense notion that linear perspective is a tool for depicting three-dimensions. And because Linear Perspective is a subject and phenomenon that has had and continues to have implications for many disciplines and for culture generally, and is a subject that consequently has generated a vast amount of debate, commentary and literature, including varying amounts of prejudice, myth and misunderstanding, knowledge and insights gained through his practice and research could perhaps help untangle or inform some of the broader debates.
By conducting this research within an academic environment, the aim was to develop links with other departments such as visual perception, computing and architecture, thus exploring linear perspective's impact well beyond the fine art arena. The project's three main questions therefore related to the nature and purpose of perspective, the relationship of methods to imagery, and the impact of knowledge from other disciplines on his practice. The relationship between the imagery and the particular perspective construction method being used was addressed systematically, and resulted in series of explorative drawings and other artworks, and much of the knowledge or insight gained was then explored in new drawings and expanded on in various papers and other texts.
Richard Talbot’s work may have vital implications for our understanding of linear perspective and how it was used in Renaissance paintings. Combining fine art practice with research into the construction of early Renaissance paintings, Talbot challenges prevailing art historical analyses of Renaissance painting which views linear perspective primarily as simply a ‘tool’ or pseudo-mathematical device for representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional picture plane. Instead, Talbot poses the theory that, as in the making of his own work, several Renaissance artists used the geometry of linear perspective as a remarkably flexible and subtle creative tool, constructing the space within the paintings from a flat surface matrix, rather than vice versa. The resulting spatial ambiguity, Talbot argues, is the reason why these paintings have defied conventional spatial analysis – the artists have either ignored or not felt the need to hold to the strict logic of linear perspective as we think of it today. The resulting tension and ambiguity created between surface and depth, and between logic and intuition, may explain why these paintings still hold our attention today.